Review: Galaxy S 5

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Samsung is the undisputed king of Android. The anti-Apple, they are, offering up large, removable batteries, SD card slots and lots and lots of extra features on top of stock Android. But is this new generation inherently “better”? In terms of raw specs, the S5 is a nice though marginally faster device. The screen is bigger and better looking. The processor is faster. Battery life, too, is supposed to be better. All that said, Samsung has taken a step towards hypocrisy by way of hardware design. For years they have lambasted Apple and their “S” model year upgrades that feature upgraded internals and the same external design as the year prior. Apple has a 2-year cycle. With the Galaxy S5, Samsung has just entered year 3 on the same hardware cycle design wise.

Is the tired design and rather meager upgrade over last years S4 worth the time in upgrading?

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Hardware

Quite honestly, if you have every seen or held the Galaxy S3 or S4, the S5 will be more of the same – just bigger. The 5.1-inch display clocks in at 1080p resolution and a brilliant, now not-so-oversaturated presentation. The standard home and two capacitive buttons Samsung has used on previous galaxy models remains. Above the display is the secondary front-facing 2 megapixel camera which isn’t too shabby as far as low-res, front-facing cameras go: 1080p video recording @ 30fps. On the upper right side you’ll find the power/sleep/lock button and opposite left, the volume up/down buttons. On the bottom of the phone you’ll find a centered micro USB 3.0 charging port. For starters, we’ll thank Samsung for putting the charging port properly in the center of the device. There’s nothing more frustrating (and frankly, uncalled for at this point) than an off-center charging port (*ahem* HTC… *cough*) Finally, on the back nicely centered is the 16-megapixel shooter. Mind you, this higher-res sensor will allow for quite a few Samsung-added features such as different HD and high speed video recording modes (2160p@30fps, 1080p@60fps, 720p@120fps), HDR, video stabilization, dual-video rec. and more.

The processor humming along inside is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 801 SoC which pairs a quad-core 2.5 GHz Krait 400 CPU and Adreno 300 GPU alongside 2 GB of RAM. Storage sizes currently come in 16/32 GB variants and can be complimented with SD cards via the user accessible SD card (up to 128 GB cards). Battery size is set at a stout 2,800 mAh – not the biggest on the market but similar to many other metrics, raw size isn’t an immediate indicator of performance, and in this case, battery life.

The most striking difference on the S5 you’ll notice over the previous S4 is Samsung’s attempt to be more upscale and classy (read: the faux leather, dimpled back). Immediately upon seeing and holding the S5, the first thing that came to our minds was a golf ball. What Samsung was aiming for we’re not sure. But one thing is for certain – their hardware design is still awful.

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Software

Touch Wiz is unfortunately still here. But whereas some features have actually become pretty useful (like multi-window), others feel like nothing more than gimmick (eye tracking that works at best, 50% of the time). That said, the most offending part of Touch Wiz for multiple years now has been the design. It’s basically a poor Playskool-esque rip-off. That’s probably why Samsung shook up their hardware/software design team several weeks back.

Touch Wiz on the Galaxy S5 is largely unchanged feature wise, with the biggest change coming in the form of a much flatter look. For the most part it’s a step forward from what Touch Wiz was. Then again, when Samsung takes 3 steps forward they seem almost compelled to pull a 180 and take 2-1/2 back. What do we mean? Hop into the settings to make a quick change to something and you’ll find yourself literally assaulted by an army of visually quite similar circular icons. The sheer number of crap in here is a problem on its own. The addition of similar colors and poor icon design art means every trip to the settings menu will result in legitimate hunting.

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Camera & Video

Apple has shown a tenacious ability in creating a wonderfully crafted camera, both hardware and software. While it isn’t as feature rich or fancy on paper, the real talking is handled by the photos themselves. And the latest iPhone 5S is no slouch. While it’s not quite the defacto #1 mobile camera, it is consistently in the top 5, more often than not in the upper part of that range to boot. Likewise, HTC has found a crafty way to show what can be done with so little with their “ultrapixel” powered cameras seen on the HTC One M7 and M8 models. And then there’s LG. The G2 was for a little run at least, considered one of if not the best mobile camera on the market. Can the S5 reclaim the crown?

In short, it’s great, sure. But it never feels or produces content that has has decidedly giving it a winning score. Images are often well lit and colorful (perhaps artificially so) and video content is crisp and clean with little issues to speak of regarding audio. That said, the one thing that does seem to be a problem for the S5 (and many phones still) is the optical image stabilization in video in particular. If you’re moving around, things can get jumpy quickly.

At the end of the day, all of the shooting modes that Samsung packed into the S5 (all were mildly tweaked and upgraded for the S5) are useful here and there. But for most people, “auto” and “HDR” are the two modes that well ever see constant action. And with all that said, the improvements and changes from the S4 are minimal at best. For 2014 it seems Samsung was content with where the S4 was at as the camera (besides raw pixel count) wasn’t really upgraded in any meaningful, noticeable ways. Still, don’t that scare you. It is still one of the best mobile cameras around provided you’re not a heavy low light or night time shooter.

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Performance & Battery Life

With top of the line specs, one would assume lag and stutter is absent on the S5. And for all but a few instances, we can confirm that the S5 is a blazing beast. If you really try to get it to miss a step you can. But for the vast majority of the global population, the S5 will take everything you throw at it and do it without fuss.

Given the increasingly powerful specs these mobile workstations pack, the general assumption is that battery life continues to suffer. In some ways, the fact that mainstream battery tech really hasn’t changed all that much in recent years (and likely won’t for several more) kind of puts a negative outlook on battery life. Though thankfully Samsung put a respectable battery into the S5. With a 2,800 mAh cell inside we were constantly able to get a solid 16 hours of off/on heavy (read: we mean heavy) usage which included a lot of reddit, twitter, instagram, Google+, Feedly and Safari, followed with some breaks here and there for good measure. If you’re the type that primarily checks a few social networks a couple of times a day, texts a decent amount and enjoys the pleasure of responding to a couple dozen emails a day, you’ll easily make it past the 24 hour mark provided your signal is up to par. No matter who you are or what device you have, a weak cellular signal will end your day early.

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Conclusion

The Galaxy S5 was a highly hyped device in that it was supposed to be Samsung’s re-birth of sorts, ushering in a new era of hardware design. But that didn’t happen. Instead we got another Galaxy S3 with some improved internal components. Don’t get us a wrong. The S5 is a great phone and one you should definitely look at. It’s packed to the gills with features (some good, most eh) and checks all of the right check boxes on the spec list. But at the end of the day it simply feels long in the tooth, old, uninspiring, boring… the list goes on.

All that said, those of you looking for a nice 1080p display, better than most camera and most importantly, removable batteries/SD cards, the S5 is the best that Samsung has ever done. Thing is, the best that Samsung can do is now starting to look less and less unique against things like the HTC One M8 and LG’s ever increasingly spec-heavy LG G series. Translation: Long in the tooth.

Gallery

7.6 Awesome

Fast as always. Lots of features. Design is long in the tooth.

  • Design 5
  • Display 9
  • Cameras 8
  • Reception/ Call Quality 8
  • Performance 9
  • Software 6
  • Battery Life 8
  • User Ratings (0 Votes) 0
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About Author

Gadget lover, smartphone collector, and beer connoisseur. I've been writing about gadgets and mobile technology since 2008 and loving every minute of it. Outside of the digital landscape, I enjoy being active outdoors and playing guitar and drums. I'm always up for a good conversation so feel free to drop me a line on any of my social accounts or via email.

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